Friday, December 9, 2016

Moonlight (a movie review post)

So it's Oscar time again... That means that my wife and I have started our yearly venture into trying to see all of the potential best picture nominations ahead of the awards. Yes, that means lots of movie reviews will be coming up. I'm already behind.

When someone asks you what a movie is about, there are two ways of answering: You can give them a synopsis of the plot, or you can tell them what the movie is about. Generally, I choose to do the latter. Anyone can look up a plot synopsis (or, if we're talking books, read the back cover), but that's not necessarily going to tell you if you want see the movie. Sometimes, though, all you can do is give a plot synopsis.

What is it I'm saying here? Well, don't ask me what Moonlight is about, because all I can tell you is that it's about a black boy and his journey to adulthood and figuring out who he is.

Is it good? Well... it's okay. Okay, no, it's good. Yeah, it's good, but it's just not really more than good. I mean, it's been more than a week since we saw it, and I still can't tell you what it's about. Not anymore than that it's about growing up. And, well, I suppose that's enough, but I don't feel like I came away from the movie with anything that I didn't go in with. Honestly, upon reflection, it reminds me too much of Boyhood but without having taken twelve years to film.

The acting was good, though, especially Mahershala Ali. Unfortunately, there's not enough of him in the movie.

The movie is told in three sections, each one dealing with a different life stage of Chiron: childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. Each of the actors for the three chapters does a good job with the role. They are all believable. However, Ashton Sanders, who plays Chiron the teenager, may be the best of the three. He is awkward and fumbling and doesn't seem to know how to wear his own skin, much less his clothes, but, then, with a drug-addict mother, he's somewhat fortunate to have any clothes at all.

Really, this isn't a movie for everyone. Or, even, for most. It has moments, and I'm glad I saw it, but it's not a movie I'll want to watch again or, even, a movie I would suggest to anyone that they needed to see. It's the kind of thing that's worth a watch if you're presented with the opportunity to see it, like the book you pick up in the airport because you might as well, right? Probably don't rush out to see it in the theater is what I'm saying.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Clone Wars -- "A Friend in Need" (Ep. 4.14)

-- Friendship shows us who we really are.

[Remember, you can sign up to join the Clone Wars Project at any time by clicking this link.]

The return of Death Watch... and a plan to assassinate Dooku?

Having the Death Watch around is always interesting, and, hey, it's always cool to see the Darksaber, but I actually don't want to talk about what the episode is about. No, again, I want to focus on something that's off to the side of the story.

When Ahsoka, R2-D2, and Lux Bonteri arrive at the Death Watch camp, the members of the Death Watch are busy torturing... droids. For fun. Their pattern seems to be to torture the droids into inoperability then have someone fix the droids up so that they can torture them some more. And I know some of you, right now, are thinking, "So...? They're droids."

It's important to remember that in Star Wars, droids are sentient. They have self-awareness and value themselves as individuals. This isn't a subject that's ever explored in Star Wars, but it's certainly there in the background. It's actually a parallel line of thought to that of the clones.

Now, most people would probably say it would be wrong to torture clones; they're alive, right? But not everyone believed that. They were, after all, built, so doesn't that make them something like organic machines? "But they can feel pain!" Sure, but so can the droids. "It's not the same!" Why not?

Why not?

Of course, after the Clone War, the making of clones was made illegal. So was the making of droids for combat purposes, though that's barely touched on.

Did you know that science (yeah, I know, for a lot of you, I may as well have just said "magic") is showing us, right now, that dolphins and other marine mammals are self aware? They have names for each other. So, you know, when a dolphin gets caught in a fishing net and pulled out  of the water, some other dolphin out in the ocean is going off to tell the pod, "Samson got caught in a net..." Imagine how you would feel if you found out your neighbor caught and ate your dog.

And some of you are saying, "So what. It's only a dog." Or it's only a dolphin. Or... it's only a black person. Or a Mexican. Or a Muslim. Or a faggot. It's not like they're people, right?

"You don't want to make them angry; they are far from rational."

Monday, December 5, 2016

You Might Just Be Stupid (or Burn It All Down)

In the last few weeks, I've heard a lot of Trump supporters attempting to defend their vote for Trump and explain how it is that they did not cast a vote for racism (and sexism). Some of these have been declarations online (whether they were blog posts, articles, editorials); some have been actual conversations I've had with people. After listening to some very blatantly racist things being said (the least of which was repeatedly referring to President Obama as "Osama") followed by the statement "I don't see how that's racist," I've come to the conclusion that racism may not have been the only reason people voted for Trump... but I'm not sure the alternative is better.

Let's look at the three reasons (or kinds of people) people voted for Trump:

1. Overt racism: You can't deny that Trump's campaign didn't promote and encourage racism. All of the racist termites crawled out of the woodwork during Trump's run for the Presidency, and, now that he's won, they don't plan on crawling back in. Participation in White Supremacy groups is spiking upwards as are race-based and hate crimes. These people feel like this is their time, their time to "make America great again" by putting minorities back in their place.  Just to point out, these people, also, do not claim to be racist, not even someone like David Duke, former leader of the KKK, CLAIMS to be racist. People don't label themselves "racist" just like they don't label themselves "asshole," no matter how apparent it is to everyone else.

2. Inherent racism: This is where most of Trump supporters lie, and they don't call themselves racists because they don't fall into the first category, though, as I said, even the people in the first category don't call themselves racist, so it's rather a moot point, but it is why people are so upset about suddenly being on Team Racism. If I woke up on Team Racism one day, I would be upset, too. Of course, I would also immediately do everything I could to get off of Team Racism, which none of these people seem to be doing. Rather, they are defending their stance of being on Team Racism by saying, "Yes, I want to play on Team Racism, but I am not a racist." Sorry, it just doesn't work that way.

Which is not to say that I don't understand the logic. No, really, I get it. Trump said he would give you A, B, and C, all things category two desperately want, but he said he was going to give you those things by being racist and misogynistic to the point of persecuting certain peoples and, yet, you said, "Okay, I'm willing to leave with that." That, my friend, is RACIST. This is the equivalent of me offering you a piece of the best chocolate cake ever BUT, every time you take a bite, I'm going to punch a black person in the face. You think to yourself, "Well, I would never do that, never punch a black person in the face so that I can have cake, but I'm not going to do it, and I really want that cake...," so you tell me to go ahead and let you have the cake and you don't really want me to punch the black person but you're willing to allow it so that you can have cake. Of course, the black person doesn't have cake or even enough normal, healthy food to eat (which you do), so it's adding injury to insult as you agree to allow him to be punched in the face so that you can have cake.

IT'S RACISM. Because the message there is that you having cake is worth more than the well being of these other people, and it's worth more BECAUSE YOU'RE WHITE.
But, still, you're not racist.

Of course, the joke is on you, because Trump isn't going to give you any cake. He and his rich buddies are going to eat all the cake while also punching black people and brown people and gay people... well, anyone who isn't white and male... in the face.

Let me give you a real, concrete example of this kind of thing (and you can read the whole story here and here (actually, that's just a part of the story, but it's the most essential part)):

When I was in my early 20s, the church I grew up in was finding itself in financial difficulty due to the aging out of the congregation and the church's inability to draw in a younger crowd. This inability to draw in a younger crowd was directly related to its unwillingness to allow people of color into its congregation of old white people. My church, itself, wasn't a young church; it was somewhere around 80 years old. Many of the elderly members of the congregation had spent their entire lives being members of that church.

Now, you would think (or, at least, I would think), that when you had built something up over that length of time, you would want it to continue on. You would want it continue to grow and persevere through hardship. However, when the aging white congregation came to the point of conflict over whether the church should continue by being welcoming to (mostly black) persons of color in the neighborhood or whether they should just destroy it all and go somewhere else, they chose to destroy it all and go somewhere else. I call this the "burn it all down" option.

It reminds me of that episode of The Jeffersons when George gives CPR to a white guy and saves his life only to have the white man tell him that he would rather have died than be saved by a black man.

The vote for Trump was a "burn it all down" vote. It's the vote that says, "I would rather destroy the USA than share it equally with people of color and women and people of non-normative orientations." It's the vote that says, "White people, specifically men, should be on top, and I'm willing to sacrifice everyone else to see that that happens."

So, yes, a vote for Trump was a vote to join Team Racism.

However, there is a third category:

3. Blatant stupidity: Sorry, I don't know any other way to say that. Initially, I didn't think anyone was THAT stupid, but I've talked to a few people who are completely convinced that Trump just says things because he has no "tact," but he doesn't really mean the horrible things he says. Basically, he's just thinking out loud but he would never really do any of the things he says he will. Which, you know, boggles the mind on how you could then believe he would do any of the "good" things he says, but that's some mental manipulation that I can't quite wrap my head around. The short of all this being that maybe there are some people who legitimately believe that Trump is not a racist asshole and just says stupid shit. I suppose those people could have voted for Trump for reasons that don't include inherent racism BUT that makes them blatantly stupid, people who bought into the lies of a conman. And, you know, even smart people get conned sometimes, but Trump isn't even very good at it, so anyone of fairly normal intelligence should have seen the con for what it was: Trump getting to have his cake and eat it, too, and getting to have your cake and eat that, too.

[Frequently, these people also cannot understand how the racists things they say can be considered racist. Sometimes, this is willful or ignorance (or just denial) but, maybe, some of these people really don't understand, cannot understand, how offensive their language is. This plays into the stupidity.]

So, you know, if you're one of those people out there claiming, "I'm not racist!" feel free to lump yourself into category three. I won't argue with you about it.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Aida (an opera review post)

No, the cat is not part of the review, but the cat insisted on being in the photos. Every single one of them. He just followed me around and sat on or next to the book every time I tried to frame the cover in the picture. Maybe he's trying to tell me something about Aida? Or wants to read the program? Or just likes the pretty picture? I guess we'll never know.

Aida is not the worse opera I've seen, but this presentation of it was far (FAR) from the best. I say "this presentation" not because I've seen some other presentation of it but because Aida is one of the most prominent operas in the world, and I have to assume there's a reason for that. [After each opera we see, my wife and I check the reviews to see how our views match up with the people who do that sort of thing for a living (so far, we're doing pretty well), and the reviews of this presentation of Aida  tend to say that it was below expectations and that it was mostly due to the musical director.]

So what was the problem?

It was too slow.

I don't mean there wasn't enough "action" in the traditional sense of "action," but this opera had a lot (a lot!) of that standing in place and singing thing that removes any potential action from a scene. Even to the point where one guy, Radames, the Egyptian general, is singing about how much he wants to be made commander of the forces while all of the other soldiers are just standing still watching him. Seriously, no one was moving. And it just went on and on like that. If the soldiers had been doing stuff in the background, like they were working or something, while he was singing, it would have added some life into something that was about as entertaining as watching someone take a nap.

Which is not to say that the quality of the singing was not as great as it always is -- the performers were all great as far as the singing went -- but there was obviously a directorial decision made that had the performers being rather static during the performance.

The other thing of note about this production is that the set was... disappointing. They made a big deal about working with Los Angeles artist Retna on the set design (he did the art for the cover of the program book in the picture above), and the art was cool and interesting, but, other than the art pieces worked into the set, the set was rather bare. It was very minimalist, so not even the set added interest to the performance.

The other thing that bothered me is something that may not be fair; I actually don't know enough about opera and the opera world to know. The setting of Aida is during a war between Egypt and Ethiopia, yet the cast was nearly all white. It's possible that there may not be any way around that as far as the primary cast goes; opera tends to be pretty white. However, it seems to me that they could have done something more diverse with the chorus characters and the few dancers. It would have been nice to have a something that looked like representative of a war between Egypt and Ethiopia. But, again, I don't know enough to say that definitively, and it's not like there is a tradition of Aida being performed any other way (despite the fact that it was commissioned for the opening of the Cairo opera house in 1870(ish)).

Still, and I sort of hate to always go back to this, it was better than last year's Usher House. At this point, I'm pretty okay with any opera I'm seeing as long as it's better than that.